Science Fiction, American-Style

Have you ever pondered the possibility of time travel? Are the fantastically portrayed ideas of alternate realities and parallel timelines something you enjoy reading about or watching at movies and on TV? Is Dr. Who and his timey-wimey stuff something you could imagine happening? I dunno how it happens: you are given a tiny, little green pill to swallow, which will send you to a future not of your choosing, or HG Wells will have built a working time machine somewhere and you’ll get to take a ride; possibly there’s a real-life T.A R D.I S. with your name on it. Maybe there’s a rip in the time continuum and you fall through the hole. I am clearly just riffing, and completely unknowledgeable about time travel. That’s not the point, though. The how of getting to this future isn’t important. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s just say you were able to.

I did. It was altogether alarming, and I almost hesitated to write it, lest it become an actual possibility. Some might read it and think, “Oh, come on! This can never happen here!” I may be told, point-blank, that I’ve got one fucked-up imagination. (I do not deny this, by the way.) I would then invite them to have an honest look at the state of the union today. Take a good look, if you have, thus far, been able to fracture your world from that which is happening all around you and affecting people you know. As an aside, if you have been able to separate your life from the dumpster fire that is the United States throughout the last 3 or more years, please: tell us your secret. We beseech you.

Really examine just the events of the past six months, if the whole Trump presidency is too much for you to rehash. Then, tell me that this scenario I offer below doesn’t at least stand a very real chance of becoming true as things stand today.

This is not for the faint of heart. Continue……

I wake up. My bed is the same soft, cozy surface. The room is the same. Everything around me is normal, the house, the cats, and, I assume, the humans. Let’s say that I forego the morning routine of looking at social media and checking out the news. That’s not likely to happen, but since this is my little work of science fiction, let’s say it does. I suddenly have a craving for a breakfast burrito, and I walk down to a place where I would normally get a breakfast burrito. Names aren’t important here. Context, people. Use your imagination.

When I get to the entrance, I don my face mask. There’s a sort of big, red, symbol on the door that closely resembles an elephant. I pay it no mind; I’m hungry, and my stomach is growling like a fucking angry bear. I get to the counter, standing the usual 6 feet away; the associate’s eyes go up, and she gestures to my face. “We don’t do that here, and you don’t have to, either,” she says. I shake my head and say, “Better to be safe.”  Then I peer back into the kitchen area. There’s one guy back there, wearing gloves and a hairnet, but neither he nor this girl have a face mask on. Pick your battles, I say to myself. “I would appreciate you wearing a mask to make my food,” I say, and she rolls her eyes. She asks me if she can help me. I order what I usually do: a breakfast burrito with sausage, cheese, peppers, onions, and tomato, with salsa and sour cream on the side.  Oh, and a large, black coffee. We cannot forget that most important item. She places the order and begins ringing it up, after asking “For here or to go?”  Obviously to go, lady. Then, it gets strange.

“I need to see your card,” she says.

“Oh! I’m using cash. Besides, I could just use the swiper you have here,” I answer, not troubled by her assumption that I would be using a debit card. Most people do, these days. She purses her lips tightly and says, “No, not your debit card. Your card.” I look at her, not comprehending. My ID? My library card? Do people still have those? My {insert restaurant’s corporate name} points card? Seeing my confusion, she rolls her eyes again and calls back to her manager. “Hey Frank? Can you come here a minute? We might have a situation.”

A “situation”? What is the situation? Why am I a situation? Is there suddenly a ban on cash, or green peppers, or sour cream? I mean, I know coins are becoming scarce, but I want to give you cash, which will help with the national shortage, at least. Clearly, I should have checked the news this morning.

The guy who is all hair netted-up strips off his gloves and walks up to her. “Again?” he asks? She gives him a look and he regards me with a sort of bland, slightly disinterested gaze.

“Ma’am,” he begins pleasantly, “she has to see your card. With the mask on and all, it’s a red flag.  It’s necessary.” 

What? Just……what?

“You mean, since you can’t see my face, you need an ID for a burrito and coffee?” I sputter, completely exasperated. What he says next in reply sends my head spinning.

“No, not your photo ID. Your voter ID.” He seems perfectly serious about this. He does not seem batshit crazy. He seems to think that am batshit crazy, though. When he sees my eyes widen in a way that must make me resemble a Bratz doll, he elaborates in a sort of bored, I’ve-memorized-this-spiel-before monotone.

“This is a Republican-owned restaurant. We must see your United States Voter Identification and Party Affiliation Card in order to serve you. Come on…. you know that. Why do you people have to be so difficult, with your masks and your shields and your outrage? I mean, we have 331,000,000 Americans in this country and only 14 million have died of the ‘Rona so far. It’s a big, fake story.” The associate next to him nods like a bobble head as he says this to me. I remain standing there, incredulous, wondering just what the hell happened while I was sleeping or if maybe I am still sleeping, and this is all a jacked-up nightmare. I take a deep, shuddering breath. Easy, my inner voice warns. Don’t lose your shit.

The manager holds his hand up swiftly. “I need to warn you that I will call the authorities. The Federal Karen Act of 2021 makes it unlawful for you to express any so-called “outrage” about any and all regulations. So please, don’t make me have to call them. No card? No service. If you’re a Democrat or an Independent, go to their restaurants. You know who they are.”  He shakes his head, clearly exasperated with me. Bobble head just keeps bobbling. Turning to her, he asks, “You got this? I have to step out for about 15 minutes to run my mom to the doctor for her test. She’s had the ‘Rona 3 times now and they keep saying they don’t know why. I mean, my uncle only had it once before he got it that last time and died. I think there’s some secret stuff going on. That Dr. Fauci might really be the descendent of the Nazi doctors.” Bobble head replies. “I hear they’re giving you the test so they can inject a time-release capsule up in there, so you keep getting sick and the numbers stay high.” He shrugs, then nods his head nervously. “I mean, I don’t want my mom having the test again, but her insurance company is owned by  Democrats.” 

I back out of that restaurant slowly but steadily, not trusting them and not really trusting myself. Outside the restaurant, I pull my phone out of my pocket. The news is easily accessed; I search words on Google. I don’t even realize that I’ve sunk to the grass in front of the store until I look up from my haze. 

Somehow, I lost 2 years of my life and somehow, I woke up in an alternate reality where Donald Trump is still President, having declared martial law back in 2020 when Joe Biden won a decisive victory over him in the election.  Biden was assassinated on December 18th, 2020, before he could ever take the oath of office. The date was horrifying: it was the same day his wife and daughter had died in a car accident in 1972. The nation had become gripped in what was nearly a civil war, and Trump had declared that it “wasn’t safe” to have another election. The borders remained closed and we were at war with China now. The United States was being funded by Russia, with Vladimir Putin having his own office in the White House for his frequent visits to “advise”. Somehow, the US was trying to function in a way that allowed citizens their simple freedoms, but also allowed racism, prejudice, and bigotry to run free.  

I learned that my assigned “times” to be able to shop at Walmart and most big box, “bipartisan” stores were from 12pm-5pm. Republicans shopped from 6am – 11am.  Independents got 6pm-11pm. The store closed from 11am to 12pm, and again from 5pm to 6pm, to restock. Small, local businesses were permitted to choose how they wanted to do business. A red elephant symbol appeared on Republican-owned and operated stores, and a blue donkey symbol appeared on ones owned and operated by Democrats. The Independents had an eagle with an “I” symbol affixed at their locations. The government refused to address the needs of Libertarians, and there was a lot of civil unrest because of that. They were lumped in with the Independents, a fact that irked both parties.

There were federal troops in every large city now, dispatched to try and stifle protests. There had been one defining protest during a week in July of 2020, in Portland, Oregon. Some women who called themselves “The Wall of Mothers” had formed in response to Federal interference and occupation of that city.

They had appeared in front of a federal building, locked arms, and stood, chanting. Suddenly, strangely camouflaged soldiers had appeared out of nowhere and mowed them all down, using rubber bullets. One pregnant woman had been hit by three bullets and had gone into premature labor, losing her baby.

Another was shot in the face and lost an eye. One had been trampled in the ensuing chaos and died at the hospital later. The rest were loaded into vans and driven away. Three were still missing “in custody”, despite pleas from their families and demands for transparency by the Oregon Attorney General and many other officials. It was said that they had been taken “where the Mexicans go.” Tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets were the rule of thumb, but there were lots of class-action suits being brought against the companies who manufactured these things. Apparently scores of Americans had been gravely injured or died as a result of peacefully protesting and being shot or sprayed by these federal troops. Trump didn’t care how the suits went; he was a big supporter of “a person’s right to sue.”

As I read the absolute chaos the country has descended into, I begin to cry.

We had lost one Supreme Court Justice in 2021, and another conservative had been named. When calls for a fair and balanced Supreme Court were vociferously voiced by both Democrats and Independents, Trump had merely answered, in a two-word tweet:

”Make me.”

The ”Great Pandemic of 2020” was called, simply, that. Most news outlets had simple, stark tickers at the top or bottoms of their pages and channels that continued to keep track of the numbers of those infected with COVID-19 and those who had died: state by state and national totals. Apparently, there was a vaccine, but it was only 45-52% effective, and a full one-third of the country refused to get it, because Trump had stated, “It’s not for me, I don’t think.” He continued to refuse to wear a mask, and only went out to golf, having completely given up on rallies and appearances over a fear that “some Left Wing Nutjob” would target him, “and very unfairly.”  At his last appearance on Fox National Television, interviewed by Tucker Carlson, he had appeared to weigh an estimated 390 lbs. He drooled from one side of his mouth and slurred his words. It was said he could not walk unassisted. He refused to address his immobility, insisting, instead, that he never be seen attempting to walk. Sources at the White House refused to comment on his appearance or health, declaring Trump to be “as fit as a 30-year-old.”

I rise to my feet. I cannot read any more. I need to get home and to make sure everyone I love is okay. The incredible reality – that I was somehow caught up in an alternate universe – has settled deep within the pit of my stomach, where it pours black terror into my veins. The how and the why don’t matter right now.  I stumble up the hill as quickly as I can, aware that I am running on no caffeine or food. It doesn’t matter; I am functioning on pure adrenaline.

 As I near the front of my house, a white ATA van pulls in front of it. The driver smiles and waves to me as the door slides open. I hear the sound of a lift, and suddenly, a figure pushing a walker slowly makes his way off the lift and out onto the sidewalk.

It is The Male Sibling Unit.

He grins tiredly at me and shuffles slowly to the front door. The bus driver calls out to me.

“He had a really good day at work! He’ll be tired. He’s really getting around good with that walker now!” The look on my face must startle her, because she turns off the van. “Hey,” she says, compassionately, “Chin up! I know how hard it has to be to see him have to fight so hard every time he’s gotten the virus. You do all you can to keep him safe. No one could have known he’d have a stroke this last time. But look at him! He’s such a fighter! He never gets down! I’ll bet he could get it a fourth time, and a fifth. He’s a strong guy. I admire how he just says that life’s too short and you gotta live.” Winking at me, she turns the key in the ignition. “I’ll see you Wednesday! I have to go pick up a crew at the Elm Street group home for testing.” With a short beep of the horn, she pulls slowly away.

The next thing I remember, I am coming to on a gurney in an ambulance. A figure, clad head to toe in blue and with a full-face shield and mask works over me. A neighbor found me on the pavement. I had passed out. “Hey, no worries,” he says to me as I jump at the sight of him. ”Your husband gave us all your info. He’ll follow in your car. Just relax for now. We’ll be at D-UPMC Erie before you know it.”

“E-Erie? Am I that sick?” I stammer. “What’s the matter with Bradford Hospital?” He rubs my shoulder softly. “You really did hit your head, didn’t you, Dear? Remember, Bradford closed a year ago. Budget cuts on the federal level. Insurance costs skyrocketed. Everyone goes to Erie or Buffalo now, depending on their party affiliations. It’s okay – let me give you something to help you sleep. It’s just a little, green pill.”

No.

It is not okay.

*******************************

I know, I know. It can’t happen here. The thing is, we said that about a whole host of things that did, indeed, happen. Here’s a great article on how the Trump Administration is corrupting government. And here’s a Trump timeline of shame, in case you need one.

We have less than 4 months to neutralize the batshit crazy and inject some sanity into this country’s leadership. If we allow what is happening to continue unchecked, my fear is that my science fiction will become less the musings of a writer who drank too much caffeine and allowed some of her darkest thoughts to make it onto the page and more of a prediction and a premonition.

No, it’s not reality. Let’s keep it that way.

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